Guidance for Journalists
Writing about nudity in general, and Naturism in particular.
This brief guide is offered because although there is good, responsible writing about naturism, there is also some very poor reporting, even from journalists who on other subjects produce good work. We seek here to identify common failings and offer some help in approaching naturism in a way to produce good quality writing and a proper respect for the subject.
The most common fault is to assume that nudity always carries a sexual connotation. In some contexts, it might, but this would be an extreme rarity when the nudity is part of a story about naturism, as naturism is a lifestyle involving non-sexual nudity. Sex is often implied or injected into a story in order to try to get readers or editors interested in something that has little other appeal. Naturism is a minority lifestyle, albeit a substantial and growing one. So it is unusual, and sometimes attracts attention for that reason alone. As most of society has little experience of nudity outside of the bedroom or bathroom, the vocabulary used to describe it often resorts to silly euphemisms about the body, childish language, jokes and puns, which are often in bad taste and used merely to get a laugh. The problem is that this trivialises the subject, insults naturists and encourages the reader to treat it superficially, and this can reflect on how the writer is viewed also. Would you, as a professional journalist, make a joke or disparaging comment about a person's sexuality or race? Of course not. Is the choice of a legitimate lifestyle any different?
Why report nudity at all?
There are two basic reasons for reporting nudity. Firstly if there is an arrest, and secondly because it is unusual.
Arrests for simple, non-sexual nudity are a rarity nowadays (see below regarding the law). Of course, there are still a few deviants around, and these cases should be reported along the lines of any crime report, with the emphasis being on accuracy, balance and objectivity.
The unusual nature of social nudity (‘naturism’) sometimes attracts initial attention, however it is usually soon discovered that naturists are doing exactly the same things as clothed people, except without clothes; such as swimming, sunbathing, socialising, hiking, etc. This can look mundane (because it is!) and can lead to some writers seeking ways to spice up the story, often by trying to inject or imply sex. This temptation should be resisted, as should the embellishment of any story. Nudity is no big deal to many people, including naturists, and it shouldn’t be to journalists either. This applies to the style in which the article is written as well as the content.
Things to avoid.
There are some clichés, puns and double-entendres that get recycled every time nudity is mentioned. Their use not only kills any serious points elsewhere in the article, but they represent lazy writing, usually aimed at getting a cheap laugh. If, as a journalist, you want people to take what you say seriously, and to read the article to the end, avoid all these overworked and inaccurate terms.
Examples are: The bare truth; naked ambition; getting to the bottom of the matter; raising a titter; keeping abreast of events; letting the cracks show; papering over the cracks; wobbly bits; standing erect; prancing around; brazenly parading; barely visible; a bum deal; cheeky goings on; nudies; covering his/her modesty; ‘manhood’ (meaning genitals); indecent exposure; the great cover-up; saucy goings on; playing leapfrog; the butt of jokes; mooning about; bottoms up; keeping abreast; cooking sausages; a social boob….etc. There are no doubt, many more!
Who are the naturists, and what do they do?
Two surveys commissioned by British Naturism in 2001 and 2011, carried out independently, concluded that there are some 3.7 million people in the UK who at some time enjoy some form of naked recreation. In other European countries, naturism is even more popular. These are ordinary people of sexes, all ages, all social groupings, who happen to enjoy being naked sometimes, either for its own sake or to enhance some other activity such as swimming or sport.
While social nudity was arguably present to some degree in pre-European New Zealand, the history of naturism as a lifestyle in New Zealand goes back to the 1930s and rapidly gained popularity in the 1950s following WW2. Repressive social attitudes at the time meant people could only be naked in private, and many naturist clubs were developed. However, in recent years, naturists want to be able to be naked in other places too, such as their own gardens, and public places such as beaches, rivers, forests, camping grounds, the countryside, leisure centres and even hotels and other leisure facilities. And there is increasing acceptance by facility providers, and the public at large, of naturist use of public places and facilities. Naturist Clubs still exist, but it is probably a minority of naturists nowadays who are members, the rest preferring ‘free-range’ or open-space naturism. It seems that ‘organised naturism’ is now giving way to do-it-yourself naturism. However, there are still occasional incidents sparked by the public myth that it is illegal to be naked in public.
Some people will say, “But what about the children?” echoing a vague myth that nudity is somehow harmful or shocking to children. In reality, there is no evidence that nudity is in any way harmful to children, and current academic research actually indicates psychological benefits. The adult objector is probably expressing his or her own feelings, or some vicarious duty to protect, rather than the child’s own reaction. Naturism is a lifestyle for all ages, and there are many multi-generational families who enjoy naturism together.
What is the law on nudity?
Simple, non-sexual nudity is not, and never has been technically illegal in New Zealand, though many people still believe that it is, and in the past it has often been treated as if it were illegal. A summary of the relevant statutes can be found HERE. In the past there have been arrests for Disorderly Behaviour under Section 4 of the Summary Offences Act 1981, but following a series of failed prosecutions, and increasingly enlightened attitudes by the Courts and the public, NZ Police have now been issued guidance on the subject (see HERE). This concludes that simple non-sexual nudity in a public place should not normally be prosecuted and that, in the absence of any aggravating factor, nudity in public does not in itself require a police response. Similar guidelines have also been adopted in the U.K. It should be noted, however, that there is some time lag between the issue of these guidelines and their universal understanding by the authorities at all levels, so very occasional misunderstandings do still happen. However if they are reported on at all, it should be against the background of the actual Law and guidance.
Any sexual activity in public, including flashing, is an offence usually prosecuted under either Section 27 of the Summary Offences Act 1981 or Section 125 of the Crimes Act 1961, depending on the nature of the offence. Such incidents should be reported by the media along the lines of any other crime report. To obtain a prosecution, it has to be proved that the offender deliberately intended to cause offence, harassment, alarm or distress. Note that the term ‘Indecent Exposure’ applies only to Section 4 of the Summary Offences Act, so reporters need to carefully ensure that the correct terminology is used. In our view the term "indecent exposure" is misleading and archaic and should be replaced with "indecent act", because such indecencies can be committed even while fully clothed. The term was dropped from British law in 2003.
In reporting naturism, journalists should avoid trivialising the subject or poking fun at the people who participate in the lifestyle choice being reported on. It is a legitimate subject for journalism as it is a widespread and growing way of life, but prurient interest is not welcomed and will usually get a bad reception, with the reaction that the reporter will probably not receive the same level of cooperation again, if any. As with any serious subject, reporting should be factual, well researched, and free of personal bias as far as possible. The best way of researching the subject is to try it for oneself. Reporters who do this and who follow these guidelines are most likely to get full cooperation and a friendly reception. Naturists want to be understood, and will usually cooperate fully if approached properly.
Any further questions?
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FURTHER READING: Dear media, enough with the double entendres.
Adapted for New Zealand conditions from an original article by Duncan Heenan, Naturist Action Group, U.K. September 2020